The Feminine Mystique
September 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
My favorite part of Daily Lives of High School Boys is whenever the three protagonists cry out, “Little sister!” Tadakuni’s little sister may be the best character in the anime, which seems odd on the surface of things, because I like Daily Lives of High School Boys mostly for being expressly about high school boys and their daily lives.
As you might guess if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I have a complicated relationship with slice-of-life shows. Many of my favorite anime come from that subgenre, from K-On! to Azumanga Daioh, and with good reason. The willingness to focus on the minutiae of your average day is firm bedrock for just the kind of grounded comedy that I like. Still, therein lies the problem, because such a commonplace subject matter means that most of these shows make similar observations with similar scope. The usual solution, pioneered by Azumanga Daioh but honed to an art by the underappreciated Nichijou, is to inject the occasional absurdity, whether detachable pigtails or a clockwork schoolgirl, in order to distance the anime just a little from the actual mundanity of real life.
Daily Lives of High School Boys does something even more radical. It makes high school boys, rather than high school girls, its subject. I’m probably going to have to walk you through the reasons why that even approaches an innovation. High school girls are almost always the subject of slice-of-life anime because their otherness is familiar to the male-dominated audience watching. Most boys knew some girls in high school, but probably not that well and certainly not at the level of detail that constitutes slice-of-life. Hence there is enough that is novel simply in showing high school girls live their lives to make an interesting show.
Daily Lives of High School Boys is unique to me because it relies on the very ubiquity of the “female” perspective in slice-of-life anime to turn the tables back around. Rather than making girls the protagonists of the show and including a floating and talking cat-creature to make it weird, like Azumanga Daioh did back in the day, the protagonists are boys and the presence of girls makes it weird. Of course, they aren’t the kind, gentle, and overall idealized girls that anime has taught us to be the norm. No, these girls are all drawn with fangs because they’re catty. They’re often drawn without eyes so eye contact is not possible. Overall, the girls in Daily Lives of High School Boys are alien and dangerous, just like I remember them being when I was a freshman in high school. There’s nothing more interesting than a show reverting to a more authentic portrayal of daily life in order to be novel, right? In this case, the male-dominated audience is served by having their own experience told back to them.
Of course, just the novel portrayal of high school girls as feral and scary isn’t enough for Daily Lives of High School Boys. There’s one last segment, starring the girls in the picture above, titled “High School Girls Are Funky.” It comes at the end of every episode save the first and stars three girls that cleave broadly along the same character lines as the three male protagonists from the show itself. Besides poking fun at K-On! and its formula, Yanagin, Ikushima, and Habara mostly complain that boys’ lives are boring and undeserving of an anime about them.
Their commentary, framed in a show-within-a-show that bizarrely falls along much more traditional slice-of-life lines, serves to heighten the innate otherness of the high school girl to the male experience. These girls curse and fight while telling confusing stories about impossible pasts in a way that removes not only them but all girls in the anime all the more far away from relatability to the high school boys that are the actual subject. In sum, Daily Lives of High School Boys could really be said to be about the incomplete and distorted image of girls that we get when looking through the eyes of boys.
I could lead you all back and forth through the looking glass a couple more times now, because there’s plenty of fodder for more, but I think I’ve made my case for how Daily Lives of High School Boys makes the mundane into the subversive. When Tadakuni’s little sister hisses and snarls at the boring boys who dare to intrude upon her insane and violent world, I can’t help but laugh, because it’s so strange and yet so true. That at least should make it a show worth watching, although there are so many other reasons, too…
Actually, don’t even get me started on Literary Girl. Other people can go down that rabbit hole.